While reading My Story, I guarantee you asked yourself the question multiple times:
Why did she stay?
And I don’t blame you. In fact, prior to my abusive relationship, I used to think the same way. I would say to myself (and others): “I would never put up with that behavior from a man”, or “If a man so much as touched me….”, accompanied by a facial expression that insinuated his hypothetical doom. Because of this victim blaming that has been engrained into us all, I have been torturing myself the past few months asking myself why I didn’t leave at the first sign of abuse. But I recently heard a podcast (Sword & Scale, Ep. 60), that changed my perspective. In the episode, Cameka Crawford, the CCO for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Love is Respect, was asked the following version of the question: “How common is it for the person who’s being abused to put themselves back into the situation that’s causing them harm?” Her response was:
“Well the first thing…I’d like to kind of flip that conversation a little bit, right?…The question isn’t… ‘Why does someone stay?’, it’s ‘Why is the abusive partner carrying out that behavior?'”
Crawford doesn’t ignore that many factors influence a victim’s decisions and actions; She states that every situation is different. In my personal research I have come across women who have stayed in abusive relationships out of fear for their lives or their children’s wellbeing, because their self-esteem had been destroyed so much they thought no one else would accept them, because their abuser controlled their finances, or…for love. The last one seems kind of pathetic right? I mean, how could a woman love someone who does that to them? But- and this is where Crawford’s words ring true- the abusive partner is the underlying element that links all of these factors together. He is the one who threatens harm, destroys self confidence and controlls finances. He is the one that tricked his partner into loving someone he wasn’t and into feeling like they were cared for and could let their guard down. He is the one that kept his partner believing that love still existed throughout their relationship by feigning moments of goodness and purity. Nothing reinforces this idea better than an idea I’ve come across often in the past few months:
Relationships are based on love. No one would get into a relationship thinking they were not loved and that it would hurt them.
The fact that a person would willingly get involved in or stay in an abusive relationship is absurd. It is the manipulation by the hands of their abuser that makes them stay. This manipulation starts so early on that many victims don’t realize it’s happening to them until the abuse is full-blown. As I mentioned in My Story, there is a term for this manipulation, called gas lighting. The best way I can describe it is like the devil’s snare in Harry Potter (because who doesn’t know HP). The partner is so skilled in manipulation that he sneaks up on you and before you know it he’s wrapped around your leg so tight you can’t get free even if you try. And it only gets worse until you’re completely ensnared and damn near suffocate, but still you fight like hell hoping to survive, hoping to escape.
Crawford mentions there are studies that show it takes an average of 7 times for a person to escape an abusive relationship. For me it was 10-15…if not more. I wasn’t weak for coming back. I was strong for still trying. Even those women who don’t actively try due to this manipulation aren’t weak. They aren’t less than for being controlled and deceived by the person they trusted most to have their best interest at heart.
It is so easy as an outsider to ask why she didn’t leave, why she stayed, why we all don’t run at the first insult dropped or the first bruise imprinted into our skin. It is so easy as a family member or friend to give up because you did your best to give her an out or ask her what’s wrong and she didn’t take it. It is even easier as a survivor to try to ask yourself those questions, to beat yourself up over not getting out when you “had a chance”.
Maybe if that wasn’t the first question we all asked, I would have realized it wasn’t my fault sooner and felt less ashamed to get help.
Because of this, like Cameka Crawford, I’m here to flip that blame on its head. It should not be a conversation about why the victim stays, but rather why the abuser is abusive. You can’t fix the problem if you don’t address the source, and the source is not the victim, no matter how much the abuser tries to convince us all it is.